Percy Savage died on August 12, 2008 at the age of 81, and will be remembered for his important contribution to fashion.
Born in Brisbane, Queensland in the late 1920s, Savage moved to Sydney to pursue his interest and flair in the arts, continuing the ballet training he had begun at home, influenced by his mother, who was a ballet dancer herself.
He left Australia for London in 1947 to study fine art, but departed for Paris within two weeks, bored by London’s dreary post-war atmosphere. He graduated art school, and dabbled in the design of silk scarves at the houses of Balenciaga and Dior.
This was around the same time that Christian Dior released his New Look collection.
The economy was beginning to prosper, and women were able to truly enjoy fashion once again.
In the early days of his career as a PR maven, Savage became especially close with the young Dior, who nicknamed him Eau Savage (which became the name of a Dior cologne). It was also around this time that young Savage began to show his natural charisma and excellent networking skills, working his way up into the high society of Paris.
This included members of the fashion glitterati, including Michel de Brunhoff, the then-editor of Paris Vogue, Ernestine Carter, who was fashion editor at the Sunday Times and Madge Garland, editor of British Vogue, who helped Savage strengthen his connections in the fashion world, and served as mentors to him, especially in the early stages of his career.
Savage got his first taste of what a little celebrity endorsement could do as far as building a brand’s reputation, while in charge of publicity at Lanvin.
He met actress Elizabeth Taylor in 1954, while she was in Paris promoting a film. She had planned to attend the Lanvin show, but her flight was delayed.
So, Savage went to her hotel that evening, upon her arrival, offering 20 Lanvin gowns at her disposal. While she was deciding between dresses, he called up an acquaintance at the Herald Tribune, who got an exclusive interview with the actress, who gushed about the beautiful Lanvin gowns she planned to wear to a premiere the next night.
After his experience with Elizabeth Taylor’s Lanvin gown, he began encouraging other starlet friends, including Jackie Kennedy and Marlene Dietrich to don designer wear at events to promote brands and designers – a practice that is now virtually the lifeblood of public relations in fashion.
Savage also helped to promote promising young designers – including Yves Saint Laurent. They first met while Savage was a judge for the International Wool Secretariat award, where Laurent received the prize for dresses. Karl Lagerfeld won the award for coats, and easily obtained a job at Balmain.
When Laurent had troubles finding a position in fashion, he turned to Savage, who referred him to Christian Dior. Three years later, Dior passed, and Laurent eagerly took over the reins. Savage also urged the young, insecure Saint Laurent to start his own line. He helped to establish YSL in London in the 1960s.
By virtually introducing the means of promotion to fashion, Percy Savage helped to make it the multi-billion dollar industry that it is today. He introduced the link between celebrities and fashion, and helped to promote countless designers throughout their incredibly influential careers – including Saint Laurent, Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga, Lagerfeld, Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood.
He also helped establish fashion in London, including London fashion week, paving the way for the extraordinary talent of today, including designers like Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Galliano.
Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.